Thursday, June 24, 2021

Getting up close and personal with Copper Point

Copper Point lies on the very eastern tip of Inis Fada (Long Island) and it marks the entrance to the harbour at Schull. I had passed it by twice, once on the Schull to Cape Clear Ferry and once on the Fastnet boat cruise from Schull in 2012 but there is nothing like getting right up to a light and, in this case, I did actually end up hugging it! This post is basically an excuse to show some current photographs of it.

Access to the lighthouse is over the grass, across the stepping stones and then blindly follow the rope until you hit the big white thing

Long Island (be careful when you google it because apparently there's another albeit less well-known Long Island in New York) gets its name for its relative length (5kms) to its width (under 1 km) There were apparently 300 people living there in the 1800s but now the number  barely reaches double figures. Most of the inhabited houses are clustered around the little harbour on the north side of the island, barely a five minute boat trip from Colla pier on the mainland. (There is a daily ferry service in the summer - we were the only visitors but it was a Monday just after lockdown was lifted)
There is a road the entire length of the island, with roughly half of it surfaced. The unsurfaced tracks are grand. We went after a particularly wet period and had to gyrate over a few boggy bits  but the views south to Sherkin, Cape Clear and the Fastnet and to the north to Mount Gabriel were fantastic. It is a wonderful place to spend a day completely away from modern life.

The lighthouse approach with the boat landing place on the left

Accessing the lighthouse is simple enough. A hop, skip and jump over stepping stones leads to a ridge of rock with a rope handrail bringing you to the tower. We were there in the morning, so most of the photos were in silhouette. There is a small landing place for the attendant but to get around the tower to the east, sunny side, requires a bit of careful negotiation, hence the hugging!
The lighthouse here owes its origin to the decision to place a light high up on nearby Cape Clear in 1818. Being often shrouded in mist and low cloud, Roaringwater Bay became a magnet for shipwrecks waiting to happen. Transatlantic traffic, not seeing the warning light, would head blithely full-steam ahead into the myriad of islands off the south west coast off County Cork and more often than not would end up on the rocks.

Copper Point, lightless, in 1903, part of a collection of lighthouse inspection photos by CIL in the National Library

Things weren't helped when the Ballast Board - under instructions from Trinity House in London - erected a lighthouse at Crookhaven but placed it on the wrong side of the harbour, so it, allegedly, could not be seen by eastbound traffic until they were actually past it. I say, allegedly, because some mariners ventured a different opinion.
In the years following its erection there were memorials from all and sundry, as well as newspaper editors calling on the position of Crookhaven light to be changed (it never was) and also for lights at Little Goat Island (the first small island encountered)  and Copper Point at the entrance to Schull Harbour. Thus, the Stephen Whitney, mistaking Crookhaven for Kinsale, foundered on Long Island, with the loss of 96 people. Thus the Charlotte, "misled by the Crookhaven light" also in 1847, was only saved from foundering on Long Island by the bravery of the fishermen there who towed her to safe anchorage. There were further calls at regular intervals for a beacon on Goat Island and a light on Copper Point.

The landing place looks quite new. The light itself is accessed by an outside ladder

Trinity House sent Captain Roberts to survey the area in 1860  and eventually, on 6th May 1862, the Cork Constitution announced that John Swan Sloane, Chief Engineer to the Ballast Board had been visiting the area and plans had been drawn up to place beacons on Little Goat Island and Copper Point forthwith.
On the 18th June that year, the Ballast Board issued a notice looking for contractors to build the beacons. Rather than cast-iron structures, they were to be built of local stone. Crucially, both beacons were to remain unlit. The Copper Point tower is 46 feet high, tapering towards the top, a bit slenderer - if that is a word - than the Baltimore beacon. I am sure I'm not the only person who thinks it looks like a milk churn.

Of course, the press had a field day. The Ballast Board had now spent thousands of pounds erecting three totally useless navigational towers viz. the misplaced Crookhaven light and now two beacons which were not needed during the day and were completely useless at night. This was only slightly assuaged by a suspiciously opportune report in the Cork Constitution of 8th January 1866, that all on board the Leander would surely have met watery graves, had they not suddenly seen the beacon on Copper Point 'by the light of the moon' and were able to safely make safe harbour at Schull.
But the controversy rumbled on over the years. Calls for a light were renewed in the 1890s after a spate of wrecks. It was not until the 1950s, after representations from local fishermen, that the matter came up for serious consideration. With Irish Lights' far-famed speed of action, a light was finally erected on top of the beacon on 1st June 1977.
In February 1981, Copper Point was officially designated a lighthouse proper, though it declined to attend the inauguration ceremony in the Mansion House in Dublin due to 'mobility problems.'

In the north-west part of the island, where there are good views of both Coney Island (yes, really) and the two Goat Islands, there are two mounds of stones, looking rather like the navigational beacons found in the Boyne, at Inis Mor, and plenty of other places. As to the what, where, why, when and who, I am completely ignorant. They may not even be navigational beacons but the remains of old houses.

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